Fight or Flight

When your local parish has problems – I’m thinking about liturgical problems right now, but this is applicable to any serious issues – what do you do? Assuming you aren’t the Music Director or otherwise in a position of “official” or semi-official leadership- what should you do? Try to fix things? Suffer through and “offer it up?” Go find another parish to worship with?

And, let’s be clear: I mean REAL problems. I don’t mean that they do some P&W songs at another scheduled Mass you don’t attend. I don’t mean they sometimes replace one of the Propers with a hymn instead or that the choir isn’t as good as it could be. I mean (liturgically, in this case) that things are so bad that it is truly difficult to attend Mass.

This is a question that comes up for most people at some time. There are no perfect answers. I recently shared my own thoughts about this on the MusicaSacra Forum, and thought I would repost them here.

Some people are called to “stay and work” in parishes, communities, etc where something wrong is going on, where change can be effected.

Some people are called to “leave and pray,” moving to other parishes or communities where they can look after their own sanity and spiritual needs.

And most people, I imagine, are called at different times in their life to do one and at another time to do the other- particularly, I would think, when children are a factor, and one must consider the environment they are to be raised and formed in.

We should, none of us, judge anyone else for their decision to do one or other.

We also, each of us, should take very seriously the discernment of which path is the right one for ourselves and for our families. God often calls us to work and to places which seem to us not to be our natural inclination: it may be that many “fighters” are called away to prayer, while many “prayers” are called onward to the fight.

7 Replies to “Fight or Flight”

  1. What is the decision point that you should use to choose between "stay and work" or "leave and pray"?

  2. Thanks for bringing this over to Chant Café, Adam. The "other Adam" is right in his response as to timing – that each of us knows where the break point is and that it's different for each of us at different times.

    "We should, none of us, judge anyone else for their decision to do one or other." – this is key. No one knows another's circumstances or heart fully. Flight is not necessarily cowardice; neither is staying, selling out.

    And stepping out of one place can lead to more fruitful service elsewhere.

  3. It can be a real dilemma, that's for sure. However, there is this to be said about standing up and resisting unjust and/or irreverent practices and/or scandalous behavior on the part of church authorities—in the process of defending Catholic faith and principles (always respectfully, of course) your own faith and character is strengthened.

    Passivity in the face of injustice or other obvious wrong wreaks its own destructive consequences.

  4. On a small scale, I don't know where one might flee to—every parish in my deanery is identical. Maybe others have better luck, but flight isn't an option for everyone. On a broad scale, I tend to think that the problem with fleeing is that when traditionalists self-segregate into a few parishes, we marginalize and ghettoize ourselves; the multitudinous liberal parishes just get more and more liberal, and when a new potential convert shows up on the steps of the Church, the odds are that they will arrive in one of those parishes. It's also a problematic strategy because it presupposes (and therefore concedes the framing of the argument made by liberal liturgists) that the problem is purely that YOU are exposed to this horrible music, rather than something intrinsic to the music itself. If the problem is that the music is grossly inappropriate to the character of the Mass, or that it will repulse potential converts, or any other such reasoning, the problem is that it happens, not that you are having to put up with it, and that's not a problem that is solved by your punching the "eject" button.

    But staying and "fighting" (in an appropriately genteel way) often becomes staying and knuckling under. I've proposed changes, in both systematic and smaller-bore ways, and it's become apparent that the powers that be just aren't interested. The only consolation is that the suggestion of a "folk mass" was also shot down on the grounds that "nobody likes the way we do Mass, but everyone dislikes it with roughly equal intensity, which is in the nature of a compromise." I have suggested that perhaps the premise that it ought to be a compromise is wrong, and that Mass should not be a fond thing patiently-endured by anyone, within reason, and that failed to raise interest either. It's not so much active hostility as torpor, I think, but either way, nothing's getting done.

    I hate to join the "flee" crowd, but if there was an Anglican use parish nearby, I'd be there so fast that it would be like one of those loony tunes cartoons where the character zips off leaving his hat and things from his hands hanging in midair waiting for gravity to catch up.

  5. On Adam's specific points, the advice is frequently given to be proactive, to "join the choir" or to "form a schola," and I just find it to be wildly useless advice.

    First, it presupposes that people who like traditional music can (a) sing and read music and (b) can do these things well enough to perform the polyphonic repertoire, which are untenable assumptions.

    Second, as though the choir decides what material it is singing! To the contrary, the only useful thing one can do vis-à-vis membership of the choir, it seems to me, is to resign in protest at what the choir's been asked to sing.

    Third, as though the reason why chant and polyphony are missing from parishes are a want of people to perform it! Go ahead, form your garage schola, work your bums off—but realize that when you go to the parish and say "hi there, we have a schola and we've rehearsed, we'd like to perform before Mass, or to contribute to the liturgy by performing the liturgical music," you are going to be patted on the head for your effort and politely told to take a hike. Why? Well, that dovetails nicely to the point on which I'll end.

    Our choir is perfectly able to sing polyphony. Our priests are perfectly able to chant. Yet we almost never have polyphony and we have very little chant. These things are conscious decisions, not happenstance—do you suppose, then, that the people who make those conscious decisions are going to allow people who think that decision seriously flawed to join the liturgy committee, or to exercise any real influence over the decisions? Do you suppose that father bongos-and-guitars is going to allow a schola to sing chant, or accept the advice of the liturgy committee that they should?

  6. I want to be very specific about this. The crisis in church music is not a problem that the laity can fix. There is a massive asymmetry; the problem cannot be solved without the efforts of the laity (insofar as it matters not a whit that Father McTraddie desperately wants a schola if there are not laymen to sing in such an endeavor), but it WILL not be solved without the decision of the clerg (insofar as it matters not a whit that every single member of St. Pius X parish in Chippawa Falls is perfectly able to sing every note of Palestrina, pitch-perfect, if Father McCool is their pastor). One thinks of the Oxford Movement. The tractarians didn't just write and argue—many of their luminaries were clergymen, and so Newman, Keble, et al didn't simply argue, as I am as able as anyone else to do, that liturgy should be done a certain way, they were in fact able to DO liturgy that way. This is a clerical problem first, second, and last. All the laity can do is provide the gunpowder but without the clerical match, all is futile. On a small scale, no parish is going to be fixed over the opposition of their pastor and/or bishop. And on a larger scale, the crisis will not end until a majority of parishes are fixed and the Holy See intervenes to fix the holdouts. Laymen have a role to play, but we are not the ones who can fix this, and so all this "advice" to laypeople is, it seems to me, completely beside the point. It is for you, fathers, to fix this mess. We will help. We want to help. We will do all we can to help. But you have to be the ones to make the decision, because we can do nothing without you.

  7. I have stayed in a parish for years (more than a decade) to 'fight the fight' through the tenure of two pastors. Both of them are orthodox in regards to Church teaching, but neither gave a whit for liturgy or music, as long as the majority were happy. I have finally come to accept that nothing substantial will change until the pastor wants it to. My more experienced musical brethren- many of you here- have been telling me this for years, but I kept holding out. Mea culpa, you were right.

    I don't like the idea of a traditional music Catholic 'ghetto' either, but some times you need the help of like minded Catholics for your own spiritual good. Luckily for me, there is an Anglican Use parish less than an hour away. It's a bit of a hike each Sunday morning, but at least I feel like I actually participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I think sometimes, we need to fall back, regroup, and strengthen ourselves t fight again another day.

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